Ep 66: When it’s Time to Leave Your Org (with Kate Kendell)

by Joan Garry

Why do Executive Directors sometimes overstay their roles? Inertia? Love of the job? A board that doesn’t want them to leave? How do you know when it’s time to go?


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Why do Executive Directors overstay their roles? Inertia? Complacency?

Or maybe they just love their jobs? Maybe the board doesn’t want them to leave. Maybe all of the above.

Often, the longer someone holds that leadership baton, the more identified the organization becomes with that individual. And that can be a challenge to the sustainability of the organization.

Kate Kendell leads the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national LGBT legal organization founded in 1977, for 22 years. She will be stepping down as the organization’s Executive Director at the end of 2018.

Her job allowed her to live out a purpose-driven and joyful career.

Kate offers her perspective on long standing Executive Directors who understand when it is time to move on. She discusses the pros and cons of staying in a job for two decades and answers questions about handling the transition. We also discussed how issues of age and race informed her decisions when making room for a new leader.

About Kate Kendell

Kate Kendell, nationally renowned advocate for social justice, is an attorney and Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights a position she has held for 22 years. Kate has grown NCLR’s budget from $500K to over $6M and a staff of 5 to 30. NCLR has been a central part of virtually every fight for LGBTQ equality and justice, including being a part of the legal team who won marriage for same-sex couples in 2015. She is an active and cogent voice online and in major media including NPR, The New York Times, and CNN.

In this episode

  • The many reasons why Kate didn’t leave sooner
  • How do attitudes of gratitude and possibility affect one’s ability to persevere in a job despite difficult circumstances?
  • How to add a level of comfort for your donors in your designing your exit strategy
  • Boards sometimes try to hang on to their outgoing leader for dear life. Should there be an offer for board service? Perhaps an honorary role of some sort?
  • How much lead time should board leadership get before an Executive Director moves on?
  • How long should leadership have knowledge that the Executive Director is leaving before it’s announced to staff?
  • What backwork should be done to get the plan in place before the announcement is made?
  • Thoughts on transitioning to an interim versus permanent Executive Director